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Listening: An Antidote to the Modern University’s Incoherence

Our universities are struggling under competing epistemological trends. Teaching students to master these requires developing their power to listen.

In his recent book, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity, Alasdair MacIntyre writes that “so many of us lead potentially incoherent lives, lives that remain as coherent as they are only because and so long as certain questions go unasked, certain issues ignored or avoided or suppressed.” The modern university is one institution in which this unasking is especially entrenched. To understand this pervasive neglect of questions, we must appreciate that the modern university is in fact comprised of three distinct “universities,” each vying for the loyalty of students and insisting on a questionable epistemology. Call these the University of Rationalism, the University of Revolution, and the University of Subjectivism. In response, we must develop—or rather recover—a fourth university, the University of Listening.

The University of Rationalism

In the University of Rationalism, Truth is pursued through repeatable experiments and tests. The University of Rationalism discovers facts by experimenting on the causal relations between objects; it aspires to complete certainty and accuracy. It decries anyone who misreports the facts, not because dishonesty is unbecoming, but because a misreport damages the architecture of facts slowly being built toward Truth. If we are to know the cause of cancer, we must record experiments accurately, and repeat others’ work with consistency in order to verify them. After verification, we move on to the next study, and so on, and then we will know every fact, from beginning to end.

The University of Rationalism is not limited to the sciences; it does, however, require that all inquiry be scientific. The non-sciences should be modeled on the sciences: social sciences, business science, sports science, musicology. In economics, the University of Rationalism models the causal relations between factors, according to assumptions of human rationality. In light of empirical testing, these models may be revised to better approximate Truth. Philosophy is pure reason, though limited as a method because it cannot be tested. Its use comes only in showing others where their logic has been inconsistently applied, at times a useful role in building the architecture of facts.

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